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Takes It! go here
of Saturday Looks Good To Me
every single time Saturday Looks Good to Me has been mentioned by the
music press, its leader Fred Thomas has been compared to Phil Spector.
That might not change with the band’s new album Fill Up the Room,
but it probably will. The reason Thomas might deserve the Spector comparison
is the way he has amassed a tiny empire of releases in recent years
and the fact that those releases are a testament to how well he writes
songs for other people to sing. Those are possibly reasons why the comparison
is so often made, too, though the main one is definitely how strongly
most Saturday Looks Good to Me songs have used Spector and the “girl-groups”
sound as a musical template. That isn’t true of Fill Up the Room,
as it wasn’t of the even odder EP that preceded the album, Cold
Fill Up the Room definitely has traces of the 1960s pop and rock that
Thomas so clearly loves: not just Spector but the Stones, Beatles, Beach
Boys and so on. But its starting place is more of a seeking, questioning
kind of orchestral folk-rock, seemingly influenced by a band whose style
shone clearly on some of Thomas’ more obscure solo records: Neutral
Milk Hotel. More precisely, it was Jeff Mangum himself whose mark could
be felt on those solo records, and here too. It isn’t just the
big-band, multi-instrument approach that Thomas is adopting. It’s
mostly a style of songwriting based on visceral imagery and litanies
of words, twisting in circles and mazes of melodies. Fill Up the Room
heads in that direction without completely abandoning the short-and-sweet
tack of the past. Anyone who likes the band mostly for the sugary, hook-filled
tunes won’t be disappointed. They’ll just find the hooks
living in a much different context. They’ll find a band no longer
satisfied with just playing catchy pop songs.
This doesn’t represent an abrupt shift. The new style is an outgrowth
not just of the ‘Fred Thomas’ releases but also the acoustic,
solo-like songs on previous Saturday Looks Good to Me albums (“When
the Party Ends” off Every Night, for example). But it is a new
style, and Thomas seems determined to build Saturday Looks Good to Me
into more of a proper band, around it, while still maintaining his place
at the front. He sings lead most of the way through, excepting one song.
And the number of instruments he plays bests that of any of the other
11 musicians listed as contributing. He plays guitars, bass, drums,
piano, glockenspiel, tape loops and more. But he also has a tight band
playing behind him, as he has on recent tours. Here he leads them through
carefully arranged songs that occasionally turn sideways into wilder,
if still restrained, jams.
Thomas also often employs devices that, purposefully or not, remind
us how songs manipulate time and a certain type of space. A drone-like
moment of near-silence comes halfway through “Money in the Afterlife”,
making the song all the more forceful when it picks back up. Snippets
of vocals, cut from the middle of a song, emerge again as the song fades:
faintly there, like fading memories. Change is clearly a musical theme
of Fill Up the Room. The album seems possessed by the notion that the
snappy little pop songs of the band’s past were baby steps towards
something greater. It’s an idea the lyrics approach as well. Thomas
begins the second song, “(Even If You Die on the) Ocean”,
like this: “I found the garden gate unlocked / so I went in and
picked the perfect spot / where I could bury my youth.”
The “everybody dies” sentiment of that same song is just
one reference to mortality on the album. The album is a body of change
for the band, but the lyrics continually reference bodies: as a signpost
of time passing, a manifestation of emotions and a means of action.
On various songs, Thomas sings of eyes that go blind, lungs that shut
down, hands buried in the snow (on two songs), teeth that grind, skin
that shrinks, long-distance lovers acutely aware of the distance between
their bodies, heartbroken ex-lovers whose memories are wrapped in skin.
“Come With Your Arms” is a dark love song phrased in terms
of the body. “Whitey Hands” is a lighter one that ends “Hold
your hands up / and let that be our love.” “Let your body
be a house,” Thomas sings earlier in that same song. If houses
are filled with ghosts of the past, bodies are filled with those of
the past and present.
Musically Fill Up the Room is also the most physical Saturday Looks
Good to Me album. Thomas and bandmates fill the space of each song with
more instruments than before, and hit them harder. They also occasionally
sing as a chorus. The dynamic way the band members sing and play together
resonates with the songs’ references to bodies and to raising
voices up, whether to the sky, someone else or yourself. Fill Up the
Room is filled with partly told stories of heartbreak and pain, but
there’s also a strong sense of hope, one embodied by the music
as well. The album cover image is of people raising their hands in the
air, rays of light shining from them.
off the Polyvinyl boat, Saturday Looks Good to Me release Fill Up the
Room, their seventh full-length album and first on K Records. Finally
the array of comparisons critics have made regarding this band is to
be found in its entirety on the same release. The moody crescendos and
meanderings of Fred Thomas' voice cut slices of Stephin Merritt; the
shimmying guitars on "Money in the Afterlife" suggest the
dance-rock quirks and pop romances of Vampire Weekend, BOAT, and the
Brunettes. These great discrepancies of mood and genre slant are welcome
as standalone pieces and contributions to the band's already hodgepodge
oeuvre. So as a collection, the album is fitful and pleasantly disconcerting,
a far cry even from July's Cold Colors EP, which was a wintry aperitif
to this full-length's sweet, sultry, and dimly sentimental refreshments.
Gone is the muddled production of SLGTM's accomplished singles collection
Sound on Sound: here are close-set guitars, warm and furry vocals, and
best of all, fully intelligible, wise and realistically poignant lyrics.
"When I Lose My Eyes", with an accomplished melody of flits
of speedy, echoic guitar, warm washes of sustains, and rhythmic twists,
paints an actual scenario-- grounded, concrete, and heavy-- after a
long instrumental intro. Thomas sings wistfully, "Me and my best
friend/ Sleep without any clothes/ With books on the bedspread/ In languages
no one knows/ All the windows are open/ All of the low lights glow/
And we flood all the rooms of our homes/ 'til we float/ And wash out
to the street down below." The heady mix of plugging guitars in
the left channel and powerful drums in the right soon gives way to a
lighter two-step rhythm, string quartet, and more than a little hint
of SLGTM's sometime collaborator Ted Leo, whose sheer single-handed
guitar power is aptly appropriated here. The vocal-free exit, rife with
thumping drum rushes and strummed monotony, pulls the song to a weighty
vocal climax of soaring whines-- so the song is worth a whole paragraph.
The rest of the album owes a lot to opener "Apple", which
borrows more from the band's earliest influences, particularly the carefree
narratives and expressive vocals of 1960s rock, which are here turned
into a boldly romantic vocal swoon: "I could fill up the room/
With these things/ I've been thinking about you." It forces optimism
about the rest of the album and recalls the sensitive, enveloping atmosphere
of Menomena's latest, which took us on a retreat where rock songs could
be bold and heartfelt missives. Later, indebtedness to Stuart Murdoch
may nauseate some listeners on "Peg", but when paired with
any other track on the album, Thomas' voice is easily understood as
more expressive than one track allows-- each song gives a glimmer of
the inflections he will give it elsewhere, as with the whiny, brassy
yelps of the simple guitar-pop song "Money in the Afterlife".
Some of the songs stutter and stumble, though they're actually the opposite,
rhythmically speaking: The clap-happy "Edison Girls" is precise
and danceable, but it drawls too heavily in Southern reflections by
the electric guitar and Thomas' rhyming adorability is overdone. Betty
Marie Barnes' one vocal contribution to this album is the disappointing
"Hands in the Snow", a light, fluffy, precisely metered B&S
tribute. Enveloping the handful of dull middle songs on the album is
aching opener "Apple" and exit track "Whitey Hands",
which experiments with a kind of homemade dulcimer, more organic hand
claps, and Thomas' voice, which swoops and soars around a beautifully
understated rhythm. It's yet more confirmation of this band's overstuffed
toolbox-- confused, perhaps, but ultimately rewarding.
certainly wasn't anything wrong with the vintage-pop-with-a-low-fi-twist
that Saturday Looks Good to Me perfected over the course of five albums
and many, many singles. However, it's also understandable why Fred Thomas
would be ready for a change, especially after switching labels and recording
studios for Fill Up the Room, and change abounds on the album. The most
obvious difference between Saturday's earlier work and Fill Up the Room
is that Thomas sings lead on nearly all of the album, and it takes some
getting used to hearing his endearingly strained voice on rangy melodies
like "(Even If You Die on The) Ocean." But Fill Up the Room
doesn't just have a sound that's different from the previous Saturday
albums' charmingly lo-fi updates of '50s and '60s pop. This album is,
well, filled with different approaches that might not have fit in the
past, but make perfect, and perfectly whimsical, sense here. The opening
track, "Apple," announces the kinds of changes to follow:
a winding, doo wop-influenced interlude, it sounds little like where
Saturday Looks Good to Me -- or any of Fred Thomas' other projects --
have been before. He sounds liberated by the opportunity for change,
and some of Fill Up the Room's most exciting moments are the most different.
"When I Lose My Eyes"' epic swell and brass flourishes recall
the Microphones' homespun-sounding symphonic indie pop drama (which
underscores why K Records is such a good fit for Saturday Looks Good
to Me). "Make a Plan" struts along on Latin-inspired guitars,
telling stories about life's unpredictability, while "Money in
the Afterlife"'s streamlined rhythms and skipping, Afro-pop guitar
melodies make it a standout. As the album unfolds, Fill Up the Room
gets closer to Saturday Looks Good to Me's previous territory, particularly
on the sunny pop of "The Americans" and "Hands in the
Snow," a bewitching kiss-off song that features Betty Marie Barnes'
gorgeous voice caressing clever lyrics like "And I watch you drink
invisible ink/So I won't know when you swallow your words." Thomas'
ways with melodies and words are still the main attractions on Fill
Up the Room, and songs spanning "Edison Girls"' cheery indie
pop to the vulnerable, unsettling lullaby "Come with Your Arms"
prove that those are constants in Thomas' music, no matter what else
changes. Saturday Looks Good to Me fans who appreciated the spirit behind
the music as much as its sound will enjoy all the curves Thomas throws
on this album. Sweetly willful, cheerfully creative, Fill Up the Room
truly is independent pop.
about this album screams "acquired taste". Frontman Fred Thomas's
off-kilter vocals could have been recorded as he stood in front of a
mirror with a hairbrush, pretending to be Elvis Costello singing Belle
and Sebastian songs; his quivering yelps blaze with enthusiasm but miss
every note. The lyrics are prolix; the cluttered arrangements are held
together by the thinnest of threads, stretched so taut they often snap.
Allow yourself to acquire the taste, however, and this is an album to
savour. Thomas is a dizzyingly impressive songwriter, verbose because
he is constructing entire stories, heart-rending tales packed with epiphanies
and insight. And there are enough other, sweeter voices here to ensure
that his words are communicated beautifully as well as eccentrically.
If the music is messy, it's because it's crammed with ideas. When I
Lose My Eyes, the album's strangest, smartest song, is so frantically
inventive that at one point it literally has to stop to catch its breath.
For over six
years now, SLGTM's leader Fred Thomas has led his band with an admirably
singular vision. An obsession with warped vinyl and AM radio, and a
band rotation that would put Liverpool FC's Rafa Benitez to shame, have
all ensured that this most indie of bands have stayed the preserve of
the sort of people who think actually selling records is some kind of
betrayal. Things could be about to change with the release of this rather
special new album. Imagine a more soulful Belle & Sebastian or a
slightly looser Magic Numbers and you're in the right area. Snare drums
crack, reverb echoes and somehow, somewhere SLGTM have got hold of that
'60s dust the La's Lee Mavers was so keen to find. The weekend starts
Looks Good To Me, from Iggy Pop's old patch, Ann Arbor, Michigan, are
equally in thrall to the sounds of the '70s. Their fourth album, Fill
Up The Room, offers pop kitsch with a knowing wink, singer Fred Thomas's
arch sneer ofset by the sweetest of harmonies.
Saturday Looks Good To Me’s mainman Fred Thomas started working
on this album, he first sat down and listened to his favourite albums:
“In The Aeroplane Over The Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel, “Pet
Sounds” by the Beach Boys, “Sung Tongs” by Animal
Collective, and “Tigermilk” by Belle & Sebastian. The
idea was to find inspiration, but something weird happened. Having just
turned 30, he was hit with a desire to move on. Not to be inspired by
his heroes, but to challenge them.
The result is an album that fuses all of the above with a wild, dizzying,
restless spirit that sees Thomas break through into true greatness.
When artists talk about song cycles that’s usually a cue to put
on some Kylie, but “Fill Up The Room” is a deliriously plotted
journey that throws itself headfirst into ebbs, flows and epiphanies:
it's as if Thomas has just woken up from a revelatory dream and needs
to lay it all down on tape while he can still remember.
So we travel from the doo-wop of “Apple” and the near-psychedelic
indie pop of “(Even If We Die On The) Ocean” – featuring
“children screaming speeches into microscopic tape recorders”
– to the surging, howling, near seven minute, neo-folk genius
of “When I Lose My Eyes”. We see Os Mutantes dance with
Elvis Costello on “Make A Plan”, handclap and jive with
the kids in corduroy on “The Americans” – in which
“birds on the roof mutter names out of context” –
and submit to tape loops and Appalachian weirdness on “Whitey
By the end, those four albums lie shattered in tiny pieces, and “Fill
Up The Room” has done just that. Records this good really shouldn’t
come this late in the year, but SLGTM have just produced one of 2007’s
latest by Michegan's notoriously erratic SLGTM has thankfully not emerged,
as was rumoured, as a 10-hour rock opera. There's Prince-in-an-Arran-sweater
melodies and Edwyn Collins-ish tweeness here. But despite sounding like
a wired Richard Hawley colliding with a more eccentric Belle & Sebastian,
there are occasional moments of decent pop.
people familiar with the infamous (or just not-famous) club night and
label How Does It Feel To Be Loved? will know fairly confidently what
to expect from Michigan pop maestro Fred Thomas and his lengthy performing
name, Saturday Looks Good To Me. These people are unlikely to be under
30 and to have ovaries, but Thomas' music is still curiously brilliant.
On previous records, most notably the wonderful All Your Summer Songs,
the mission statement has been to recreate the Spector sound, to charm
through nostalgia but, crucially, with the inclusion of modern sentiment.
Littering records with the odd synth has also been pretty good, but
you can't eat the same meal every day, can you? Similarly, stints on
the road with full backing band have developed things and lent the milieu
a distinctly garage band feel, and that's where Fill Up The Room fits
In truth, you only need one song from this album. It is, of course,
quite heartening to discover that the remainder is also rather good,
but here's the one you want: 'When I Lose My Eyes' is Fred Thomas duelling
with the past and the present in a potent style. Almost seven minutes
in length, it constantly has the sound of punk's most digestible twangs
and clangs, but the soul and class of Sun Studios. Thomas sings of a
growing love for his best friend, which is just about a modern enough
narrative to stop the project from going stale, but the sheer calibre
of the delivery means he could be singing about anything and still make
it listenable. When the horns and strings arrive after some surf drums
and wailingly obvious chord progressions, it's an epiphany. But when
those lightly articulated horns and strings turn to jazz growls and
aggressively dark bowing, we've gone straight to Ascension Day. You
may be able to predict what's coming, you may be overly familiar with
the references, but you're not ready for the whole package until you
Putting that particular song at number three in the running order would
cripple most other records by continual comparison to an early highlight,
but Fill Up The Room continues to delight. Not quite as much, that’s
for sure, but it's valiant stuff. It's hard to argue with the well-judged
melancholia and skilled arrangements of 'Come With Your Arms', Thomas'
most Dylan-esque moment and an emotional core if ever there was one.
It's also the most poetic song here, and it marks a deeper furrowing
than on previous SLGTM records. Lines like "we climb and we clamour,
we falter and scatter and fall off like leaves" is evidence that,
as an artistic prospect, Fred Thomas is less concerned about the sound
of his records and more inclined to work on the reasons he's writing.
Finally, his heart has caught up with his head.
With a now-complete arsenal, Saturday Looks Good To Me records will
hopefully continue in this fulfilling vein. While there's a small gap
where the production genius of emulating all the warmest parts of Motown
used to reside, the renewed emotional focus and the blistering intensity
of certain moments on Fill Up The Room go some way towards compensating.
For all the hair-clipped crimes naive indie has visited on the world,
in the right hands it can still melt hearts. Michigan's Saturday Looks
Good To Me do plenty of that, specialising in swooning alternapop that
sounds like Spector's Wall Of Sound scored by the lovesick boy-next-door.
Songwriter Fred Thomas may not fully indulge his melodic sweet tooth
here - there are instrumental jams present too - but even these shimmer
with promise, setting up a delayed gratification that is made good on
giddy confections such as the irresistable "Money In The Afterlife".
looks good to me, yes, well it used to anyway, just like when The Kinks
sang "I like my football on a Saturday, roast beef on Sunday, alright"
but that's from a distance time. These days it is very rare that my
club plays an away game on Saturday given the demand of TV companies
and for all the fans of Premiership teams, what has it been like this
season? This weekend saw three games played on the Saturday and only
one of them with a 3pm kick-off, its fair made a mockery of Match of
the Day and given Match of The Day 2 a higher profile than its presenter
probably deserves, the 6 days a week working chipmunk that he is. So
on initial impressions, Saturday is not looking good to me, its dropping
in goodness with every passing season.
However, that's just this writers opinion and Saturday is looking good
to the new collective from Michigan (so they probably don't understand
football or soccer much anyway) who turn out to be the latest American
indie band offering up a sumptuous mix of melodies and off-kilter rhythms
and lyrics. Theres definitely not enough use of the word "syphilis"
in modern songs and the band have managed squeeze it into a song that
is very reminiscent of The Shins on '(Even If You Die On The) Ocean'
And mention of The Shins allows a handy reference point to be made and
it's a starting point but thankfully there is more to this than that
comparison suggests. The drum-fills on 'When I Lose My Eyes' are more
akin to the LCD Soundsystem and dance-floor filling shenanigans than
the standard American clever indie record and keeps the listener on
Reading about the history of front man Fred Thomas does paint a picture
of a man who constantly tries to bewitch and bewilder the public and
no doubt he sees the albums variety as its main selling point. In reality,
it is tricky at times to keep up with the inventiveness and run of ideas
but if you can do so, then its rewarding.
The move from thrashing guitar workout to 60s girl-group backing to
psychedelic overdubs occur in the space of a few seconds and repeated
listens to this record are going to turn up gem after gem. At its hearts
it's a bit twee but when that tweeness is masked by so many overlays
and instruments, its easy to forgive the wetness and appreciate the
groovy moments. The album is called 'Fill Up The Room' and if they took
all the instruments that were used to create this record, they would
be very likely to fill a large sized room.
There are fills that which the young listener will sound like Razorlight
but take it from us, this will be because Johnny B was influenced by
bands like Blondie or The Modern Lovers as their spectre hangs over
a lot of what Saturday Looks Good To Me offers. 45 minutes for a thirteen
track album isn't overly long but it seems much longer, due to the amount
of different styles and approaches being levelled at the listener and
overall, it's a winner. You may feel as though you need a lie-down at
the end of the record but after that, get back on your feet and give
it another whirl.
What goes around, it seems, comes around. British indie-pop at its purest
has long worn its heart on its sleeve like a badge of honour and likewise
the influences that fuel it: Lou Reed's pitch-perfect chord sequences
for the Velvet Underground at their most tender, the harmonious swoop
of the voices that filled Brian Wilson's head and Phil Spector's realisation
of the drama of broken hearts and ripped innocence are all cornerstones
of a sound that's filled the bed-sits of many an awkward indie kid.
The irony, of course, is that fundamentally this is an American sound.
Granted, it's the sound of an America that died when The Rolling Stones
nailed the coffin shut on the '60s at Altamont but one that still resonates
to this day. As exemplified by Ann Arbor, Michigan natives Saturday
Looks Good To Me's latest platter - their seventh - the ripples are
still being felt across the Atlantic. So much so that opener "Apple"
feels like a pastiche rather than a tribute. Too obviously in thrall
to the Brill Building's output or the street corner serenades from the
other side of the East River, its effect jars with the equally inconsequential
"(Even If You Die On The) Ocean". And then, as you're just
about ready to give up the ghost, we have lift off.
Like Dorothy emerging into the Land of Oz, "When I Lose My Eyes"
is the moment "Fill Up The Room" shifts from a dull monochrome
into a Technicolour bloom. Like a gripping story, the track builds slowly
before shifting dynamics from one guitar burst to another as singer
Fred Thomas sighs: "Me and my best friend sleep without any clothes
/ With books on the bedspread, in languages no one knows". Tender
stuff indeed and the presence of Belle & Sebastian is keenly felt
on the triptych of "Peg", "Money In the Afterlife"
- which sounds remarkably like Stuart Murdoch taking on Fleetwood Mac's
"Dreams" - and "The Americans".
And therein lies "Fill Up The Room"'s drawback. Too often
- check the Os Mutantes-referencing "Make A Plan" - Saturday
Looks Good To Me show off their influences rather than building on them.
But taken on its own terms, there are moments that beguile. The clap-happy
jangle pop of "Edison Girls" is a joy, while "Come With
Your Arms" is a thing of delicate and fragile beauty. By turns
delightful, melancholy and a little infuriating, Saturday's not only
looking but sounding pretty good, too.
years into his quixotic pop campaign, Fred Thomas has found his natural
home on the dancefloors of the UK's classicist indie discos - to the
extent that his fourth album is being released on one of these club's
offshoot labels. It's breezy, jangling stuff, though without the lyrical
guile or melodic invention of, say, Stephin Merritt or Stuart Murdoch.
Two highlights, "Hands In The Snow" and "No Reaction"
suggest Thomas might leave the singing to bandmate Betty Marie Barnes